Two weeks ago, on November 14, I had the great pleasure of attending an event with Susan Cheever and her latest book, Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography. Full disclosure: the event was at our Concord Bookshop (my employer!).
I enjoyed this reading as a member of the very full audience; my friend Kristine sat with me, and I saw Robin from our writing group. I recognized many other people from around town and in the bookshop. I guess after 3+ years this really is home for me
When you have a book about such a major iconic figure right here in town, there’s bound to be a great turnout — from the casual fan whose admiration grows steadily (that’s me; did you know the title of my blog is taken from a Louisa May Alcott novel?), to serious academics, to tourists who were lucky enough to happen upon the event while visiting.
Ms. Cheever started the presentation by talking about her inspiration for writing the biography – about ten years ago she was asked to write the foreward to a reissue of Little Women. In preparing the piece, she re-read a childhood favorite that she hadn’t visited for a while; after that … she was hooked! She read every biography of Louisa May Alcott that she could get her hands on, as well as bios of other figures from the area and era – Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc.
In reading about this cluster of people (philosophers, writers, to quote the Wizard of Oz, “big thinkers”), Cheever noted that the women in the circle were given little press. This realization inspired her to write American Bloomsbury, a look at both the men and women of Concord’s 19th-century literary circle, including analysis of their relationships. I purchased American Bloomsbury at the event, but have yet to read it (so many books, so little time …).
Cheever hadn’t yet satisfied her LMA itch, and continued to research the author and her history. In particular, she was interested in the choices Alcott was given (in regard to her work of writing, love/marriage, and commitments to her family versus her own aspirations) as well as the author’s complicated relationship with her father. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it love-hate, but Cheever makes a case for both animosity and deep affection between Bronson Alcott and his daughter.
Cheever’s conversational introduction to the event and the passages she read led to a lively Q&A with the audience. It’s clear she knows her subject, and is passionate about the connection she makes between Louisa May Alcott, the fictional Jo March, and so many of today’s women who identify with both.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon – my review of Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography will be posted next week.